In the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 8, incredible stories of the tragedy’s bravest heroes—donors, rescuers, doctors, and Samaritans—have flooded the media. But closer to home, just a few blocks from the Law School on Pierrepont Street, a solo practitioner with muscular dystrophy is fighting a battle for victims of the earthquake largely forgotten: those with disabilities.
Thomas K. Small ’93, whose practice specializes in helping people with disabilities, whether receiving homecare under the Medicaid program or gaining access to governmental services or public entities, has long been a beacon of hope for individuals with disabilities. But his most enduring legacy may be his current groundbreaking effort to raise money and collect supplies for victims of the Haiti earthquake with disabilities.
“I was very moved by the images over the television and really wanted to be a part of making a contribution to the organizations providing relief,” he told BLS Librarian Harold O’Grady in an interview. “Given my connection with disability law and culture, I wanted to try and target my efforts to benefit those people with disabilities affected by the earthquake in Haiti.”
With the help of Portlight Strategies, Inc., an aid group dedicated to serving those with disabilities, Small has spearheaded an effort to raise money to help transport medical supplies and equipment to Port au Prince and is also running a collection drive to gather medical equipment--everything from crutches to canes and wheelchairs.
His passion for the helping scores of disenfranchised disabled comes largely from personal experience. Small spent the majority of his youth in a children’s hospital in Westchester County. Once he turned eighteen, he was to be sent to an out of state nursing home where he would remain for the rest of his life. But Small had other plans; he was going to attend college and live independently. He attended SUNY Farmingdale and went on to SUNY Albany, eventually graduating from Long Island University's Brooklyn campus and later from Brooklyn Law School.
In the years since graduating, Small has become something of a celebrity in his field. In addition to his legal work, he is the co-host of the “The Largest Minority,” a bi-weekly radio show on WBAI (99.5FM) that deals with social, legal, and cultural issues of being disabled. But he is perhaps best known for helping to get wheelchair lifts installed on MTA buses by staging a wheel chair “sit in” with some friends who blocked a downtown Brooklyn street in the 1990s.
As for his work in Haiti, Small said he is grateful to help where he can. “I just feel there is work to be done, and I try to do the best that I can do,” he said. “I have certain gifts, and I try to use them to help the world.”